Dear Uncommon Courtesy,
Like a lot of New York apartments, mine sometimes falls apart and needs fixing. Of course, the repair guy isn’t someone I picked and hired, he’s the dude my landlord knows.
What exactly should I be doing when he’s working on my doorknobs or closets? I feel like a jerk who doesn’t trust him if I hover, but on the other hand I really don’t know this dude, so going into another room seems like a bad idea. He is clearly not interested in talking to me more than necessary, so friendly chatting is out.
Instead, I tend to stand kinda nearby and mess around on my phone (this is what I’m doing right now), which feels rather like the worst of both possibilities.
So what’s the least dickish, but also most sensible, thing to do?
Hovering Over Handyman
Amy Vanderbilt wrote of servants: “Try from the beginning of your relationship with a domestic to establish a dignified employer-employee relationship. Make your orders clear, and, whenever possible, put them in writing. From time to time review the work in a friendly manner, giving censure, encouragement, and praise, as needed.”
Victoria: Repair guys! It is pretty awkward to figure out what to do. Personally, I pretty much like to leave them alone and not hover. But my apartment is small so I can hear what’s going on.
Jaya: I’ve found myself hovering recently, but that’s only because our Super our neighbor and really chatty. Or I’ll have questions about things.
Victoria: I also think it’s nice to offer some water, especially if it’s hot out.
Jaya: Yes! That’s been my standard: offer water, and then say I’ll be in the living room/bedroom/wherever if they need me. I also think that even if it isn’t someone you picked yourself, it’s not like you’re totally screwed if something happened. You can absolutely hold the landlord accountable if something is stolen or broken, or they do a bad job.
Victoria: Exactly. Or, you know, call the police.
Jaya: It just seems logical that if the landlord signs off on sending someone to your apartment, you can go to them if something goes wrong.
Victoria: Just don’t leave $100 bills on your counter or something like that.
Jaya: Such a problem for all of us. But yeah, I get it. It is a bit weird having someone doing stuff in your house. I feel like most of use aren’t used to having “house help” so we’re just awkward about it.
Victoria: When I was a kid my parents had a cleaning company come sometimes, and when they’d be there after school I’d sort of slink from room to room to avoid them. Interestingly, the “old way” with servants kind of worked–the servants would go up and straighten the bedrooms while everyone was awake and downstairs eating breakfast. And Emily Post admonishes people in the first edition of Etiquette for not giving their servants the time and space they needed to get into the rooms to clean.
Jaya: Psh, who has an “upstairs,” the Rockefellers? When I was a teenager my mom would have a cleaning person sometimes, and there was always a “cleaning for the cleaners” thing that would happen.
Victoria: We had that too, but it makes sense. A lot of companies won’t move stuff to clean under it. Also, if you’re paying for four hours, they won’t be able to get to the actual cleaning/sanitizing if they have to pick up a bunch of junk first.
Jaya: That’s very true. But yeah, I think servant etiquette just doesn’t translate for most people now. If your house is big enough for servant’s quarters then yes, you won’t notice them. But if there’s someone in my house, I know. I also think it has to do with the shame of hiring someone for that, or maybe it’s just me. I’m a capable woman, I should be able to reinstall windows or whatever.
Victoria: You rent though, so that’s part of the deal! It’s not like you’re investing in something you own.